Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Last Man Out

Heavy snow hit the south of the UK yesterday afternoon. We had heavy snow last week on Thursday too and although it was hard it didn't last very long - long enough to cause problems though and with a layer of snow and ice still on many back roads. However yesterdays conditions were exponentially worse.

I was at work in High Wycombe which is basically located in a valley in the Chiltern Hills. This means that to get to work I have to drive up a steep and long hill before going down the other side to get to Wycombe. I got an e-mail from someone passing by Reading whee I live that the snow was falling and that it was 2-3 inches deep. I tried calling home to validate this but could get no answer. Nothing from their mobile phones either, so I waited. 30 minutes later snow began to fall increasingly heavier at work and so I bailed out and headed for home. This was at 4.30pm.

I made it about half a mile, which was all up hill, before I got stuck with the wheels just spinning. People walking down the hill were saying it was like an ice rink at the top and so after trying a little more to make the car go up I gave in and eventually managed to turn around - although it was more like "slide around", and headed back down the hill. I was going to try the main hill out as I figured it would be in better condition but traffic was gridlocked where I was and I couldn't even get back to the office. After parking up I trudged back to work and reached it around 6pm. I found it locked up, no one there. Fortunately I have a key so I let myself in and called home to tell them of the problems. Apparently Reading was similarly gridlocked, all buses cancelled and abandoned in the roads and mobile phone lines jammed.

On a hunch I headed over the road to the local pub and found 4 colleagues in there who were in the same predicament. We sat and drank, chatted and looked out of the windows until around 10pm. The others said they were going to try getting out through the valley which obviated any hills, and I decided to get some food then try the main hill out. If I couldn't make it then Id be staying the night at the office! My main concern was my evening & morning medication, neither of which I had with me.

For speed I went to McDonald's - decidedly dry food even with a coffee to wash it down with. I got a call from one of the guys to tell me that the main hill was closed by the police so I walked back to the car and tried the other hill out that I had attempted previously. No joy; the police had closed that too. Apparently there was too much snow and drivers were leaving cars and lorries everywhere blocking off the escape routes and it was too icy.

On a hunch I tried the next road over the hill along but that was impassable too. Along the way I nearly rear ended another car. There was about 5 car lengths between us as he went to turn a corner at the bottom of a slope and slid, so I applied the brakes gently, lost all traction and slid on down towards him. I was only going about 5 mph but the car just kept sliding and after yanking the hand brake up, jamming the foot brake down, praying to Mustapha I stopped not even a foot away from him. I don't think he even noticed me.

Somehow I got onto a road - don't know its name or even where it was - and a pedestrian told me that it was closed ahead but that I could take some turns and get around the blockage, so I followed his directions and ended up going up a hill in the general direction I needed to get to. Well all I can say is a heartfelt thanks to the residents and pedestrians who were there as there is no way I could have made it without two people pushing the car and another with a shovel clearing the snow from under my front wheels when I got stuck. At about midnight I made it to the top of the hill and the M40 crossover. Snow was hellishly deep at the top. No roads had been gritted and the only possible path cleared was via previous vehicles, but even these tracks were filling up with snow.

I couldn't take it above 20mph maximum before control was lost so I slowly drove down the other side of the hill on a road virtually empty of traffic except for abandoned vehicles and the massive queues the other way. On eventually hitting the M4 motorway I joined it and was pleased to see it had been gritted - the only road I saw gritted that night - but that it was 3 lanes of gridlocked traffic and the hard shoulder crawling with stuck or broken down lorries, cars, etc I must have passed over 100 of them on my way home. I eventually walked in the door at 2am this morning...knackered but quite highly strung.

Needless to say I decided it was prudent to work from home today. We've got about 5 inches of snow on the ground, maybe more. Cars outside our house are stationary again. Kids are going out to build a snowman and have snowball fights in the garden. Happy Christmas :)

1 comment:

  1. Man, that is insane! Glad you have a day to work at home though, after getting in at 2, I doubt you have much interest in trying that again! Yea, sounds like you had a much worse event than me. It took me 90 minutes to make it about 200 yards from work...but once I got past the backup to the Bay Bridge, I was in the clear.
    So...10 hours to go 25 miles? Sounds like you need a winterized bike! You could've been home in two hours! Go go Pugsley!